Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corning Classic Saturday: Who Wants to Win This Thing?

The uneven play of the second-round leaders at the Corning Classic raises a serious question for me: who wants to win this tournament the most?

What with the squandered surges and the painful collapses and the bad approach shots and tentative putting that I got to watch--yes, watch!--on the Golf Channel with onechan, imoto, and my mom and dad yesterday evening, I'm not counting out anyone under par heading into Sunday's round. The course is vulnerable to low scores (particularly on the front), the conditions are going to be perfect tomorrow (April-like weather returns to New York in late May!), and those in the middle of the pack with a chance to win have nothing to lose.

So why couldn't Paula Creamer post a number and put pressure on the leaders from her 10:06 am pairing? Why couldn't fellow -1ers Meena Lee, Na On Min, H.J. Choi, or Kyeong Bae make a similar move? Why couldn't Seon Hwa Lee make up a 5-shot deficit by firing off a final-round 63 like she did when she got her first LPGA win at the ShopRite Classic? Why couldn't Hee-Won Han follow up on Saturday's bogey-free 67 by tapping into the magic that lead to her tying Juli Inkster for the tournament record with a 62 in 2005 or her win in 2006? Why couldn't Jimin Kang or Karine Icher or Linda Wessberg or Na Yeon Choi do the same from 4 back like her?

When you get to those at -4, you're out of the realm of needing something in the very low 30s on the front and into the realm of needing just normal good play to leap into contention. With warmer weather on the way, expect Mi Hyun Kim to be charging hard for her 9th career victory. Will Sunday be the day that Sun Young Yoo figures out how to play birdie alley--the last 5 holes on the front? A bad front yesterday almost dropped Song-Hee Kim out of contention, but a fantastic 33 on the back got her within 2 shots of the lead. Will this be the week that the former Futures Tour star breaks through for her first and long-awaited LPGA win? Speaking of long-awaited, is it finally Leta Lindley's turn? Or will youngsters who have paid their dues and begun to play like veterans like Katherine Hull or co-leader Erica Blasberg horn in? Blasberg has missed opportunities the past 2 rounds to separate herself from the field. Will she learn from her mistakes or continue to make them?

The biggest question mark for me is Jeong Jang, who's looking for redemption not only from her squandering of a 3rd-round lead here in 2006 but also from getting overtaken by Paula Creamer over the last few holes of 2008's second tournament--but is hampered by arthritis and cysts in her right wrist. Assuming Sunday's warmer weather will be as good for her wrist as it'll be for Mi Hyun Kim's knee, I definitely see her breaking 70 tomorrow, which means the eventual winner will be double digits under par. I don't think the rusty Creamer has a course record in her and Lee has broken 65 only twice in her career (the most recent coming in last season's Canadian Open), so realistically speaking they're too far behind Jeong to put much pressure on her. But past champions Kang and Han just need to be in the neighborhood of Blasberg's opening-round 65 to give themselves a chance for a repeat victory at Corning. And getting to double digits under par for people between -4 and -6 thus far is definitely within the realm of possibility--some could do it before they make the turn.

So just like on the JLPGA this week, the penultimate round at Corning has set up a classic free-for-all. Should make for some compelling tv. Who says the LPGA is boring?

[Update (11:56 am): Would you believe I caught more of the Saturday telecast than Hound Dog? Has to be a first!]

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